An Interview with ‘The Dancing Rogues’ Hayley Cutler, Sara Herrera-Kopetchny, and Sylvana Christopher by Rick Westerkamp

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 The Dancing Rogues: Who are they and what do they have up their creative sleeves?

DC-based choreographers Sylvana Christopher, Hayley Cutler, and Sara Herrera-Kopetchny have teamed up and formed The Dancing Rogues. They are presenting their first joint show on Saturday, December 14th at 7:30 pm at Epic Yoga – 1323 Connecticut Avenue, in Washington, DC. I interviewed these fabulous ladies, to learn more about their artistic aesthetics, the formation of The Dancing Rogues, and their upcoming show!! Their show is going to be intimate, giving the audience ample opportunities to connect with the work without the formality of the proscenium stage, so make sure you get your tickets ASAP!! 

Rick: What is your “DC dance story?”

Haley Cutler. Photo by Travis Curry Photography.

Hayley Cutler. Photo by Travis Curry Photography.

Hayley: My DC dance story starts as a dance major at GW, and really every subsequent thing that has happened to me since then has been an extension of that tight-knit family. I basically owe it all to Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Maida Withers, and my fellow alumni, who were critical in the inception of my company, darlingdance, and who continue to be the leading source of collaboration and inspiration in my work. I moved to London after graduating, but returned to the DC dance community to pursue my career as a choreographer because I couldn’t have imagined starting out with any other group of people by my side.

Sara: Oh wow! In all honesty my DC dance story has to be about my students and their parents, past and present. I had just moved here from New York City with only two years of teaching dance and I applied anywhere and everywhere. Over these past years teaching in the DC metro area, I built strong relationships with these families and students that led to additional opportunities. They truly have been my “other other” family. I feel extremely proud and accomplished for them, even when I get those students (you know who you are) who probably won’t continue with dance after graduation, and boom, they are back in the studio and performing again with their college or university because of how much they missed having dance as part of their lives. It’s absolutely incredible watching these young dancers grow and then having them visit you after they move on or out to start their own adventures as young adults. I wouldn’t be as successful, but more importantly happy, in my DC dance career if it were not for the support from these individuals.

Sylvana: I grew up here training in ballet with Suzanne Erlon, Paul Wegner, Lupe Serrano, Patricia Berrand, Jane Bitner, Dawei Zhang and Lorraine Speigler.  My mother, Dr. Luella Christopher and our close friend George Jackson are practically my living dance encyclopedias. My love of choreography and performance started young and was nurtured by my teachers. Growing up, I was surrounded by music and ballet.

Describe your artistic aesthetic in three words.

Hayley: Abstract, dark-humored, off-putting.

Sara: Playful, open, honest.

Sylvana: Neo-classical, theatrical, ravenous.

Sara Herrera Kopetchny. Photo by Maggie Picard.

Sara Herrera-Kopetchny. Photo by Maggie Picard.

When did you form your respective companies and how did that come to fruition?

Hayley: I founded darlingdance in 2010, and have been planning to be a choreographer since I was about three years old. So, you know, it was a long time coming. When I moved back to DC in 2010, I started talking to my GW dance family about my plans and basically convinced some folks to come jump on the darlingdance train and we started making work. Really I just kind of went for it, because if you know me, you know I don’t take no for an answer, and also there is legitimately nothing else I’m good at. I could boil water incorrectly.

Sara: I began “trying out” choreography on my adult modern class and my goodness it feels good to see your movements come to life on mature dancers. Soon after this experience I launched Aras Dance, in 2012, because the time had finally come to make it happen. I thrive on the completely nervous, scared and excited emotions running Aras Dance evokes and makes me ready to rock and roll.

Sylvana: I sparked Glade out of a need for a place to grow as a choreographer and dancer. In 2009, we began with 6 people and have doubled in last four years. Slowly, each year I’m more amazed and what we are able to do as a collective. For this particular venture I am stepping out on my own to focus on my work but still using Glade dancers Grace Cunningham and Jonathan DeVilbiss.

How did The Dancing Rogues meet, and what drew you to one another?

Hayley: We met as artists during the Eureka Dance Festival, which brought us together for months before we presented the Festival at Dance Place. That year, Sara and I were presenting our work, and Sylvana I believe had presented the year before, and was dancing this time for another artist. Sara and I became fast friends as she hauled my butt to and from Takoma Park many a late night, and have just gotten closer since. She doesn’t know this, but I’m working on adoption papers so I can become the oldest daughter in the Herrera Kopetchny household. Sylvana and I stayed connected because we are both faculty members at Joy of Motion, and if there’s one face I want to share an eye roll with at 8:30am on a Saturday, it’s Sylvana’s. She’s really helped calm me down as we navigate the ups and downs of this particular industry, in this particular town. I wouldn’t want to be in this boat with anyone else – these ladies are special.

Sara: I feel grateful that my relationship with Hayley has grown since Eureka, and through this relationship, I’ve gotten to know more of Sylvana on a personal level. They are both incredible individuals and accomplished artists. I feel honored to be working with them again. I love how all three of us are different but hands down completely passionate about our craft.

Sylvana Christopher.

Sylvana Christopher.

Sylvana: Through Eureka Dance Festival and our ability to find common ground in the challenge of making dance in Washington, D.C. when the same people get featured again and again so we basically agreed why not make a show of our own and thus the Dancing Rogues were born.

What excites you about this show? What makes this show different than previous showings of your work?

Hayley: I’m so stoked about this show because we are doing everything our way, 100%. I’ve presented a lot in festivals, group shows, etc….but there’s something special about being completely in charge of the whole evening that is really exciting. Even when I’ve previously self-produced, the restrictions of a more traditional venue have held me back. I’m so thrilled to be working with Emma at Epic Yoga because she’s really letting us do whatever we want with the space. I also just love the idea of an intimate space; I feel like my work and my aesthetic at this moment really lends itself to this kind of presentation

Sara: The owner of Epic Yoga, Emma Saal, is what drew me in. The moment we saw the venue and met Emma, it felt right and exactly what we were looking for. She was open to our ideas and definitely supported our vision for presenting an evening length performance in a non-traditional theatre setting.

Sylvana: I am revisiting a trio from my past about a not so comfortable situation from high school set to a macabre-esque piece sung by Scott Weiland called “Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down” which was on the Great Expectations soundtrack which I totally fell for when it came out. Next, I am putting a second spin on my T.R.I.B.E. piece created for Joy of Motion repertory class set to a haunting piece of music by Vas called “Izgrejala” that is in Bulgarian jibberish.  Lastly, I am excited to present a new solo dedicated to love and patience to Magnolia Cutoff by Stephen Gardner and Ben Bailes. This is different because I taking the chance to commit to the production of my own work with my hard earned cash money!

What is your greatest source of inspiration for the work you’ll be presenting?

Hayley: The darkness. The underbelly. The things we think but don’t say. The morbid curiosity we all keep tucked away. Ew, that rhymed.

Sara: I would have to say mine is emotional experience. The work I show is dear to me because I’ve lived through it, I’ve tasted it, I’ve failed at it, I’ve conquered it, it’s me with dashes of inspiration from particular individuals. For example, one of my pieces, Tri, is about race day. Outside of my dance world I am also a triathlete who has completed five triathlons including one Ironman. From morning nerves to crazy transition mayhem to silencing the voices in your head and staying on course to cross the finish line I remain inspired by all the people I meet on this journey–coaches, teammates fellow racers. I will be performing this new work as a solo, in our December show. It will be an excerpt of what I envision being a full-length performance as a homage to the DC multi-sport community.

Sylvana: Content.  Always enjoy diving into the story that is created as the dance unfolds.  Also, the space is going to be fun to work with.

How would you describe your work, to an audience member new to dance?

Hayley: Postmodern, pedestrian, humorous, dark-sided.

Sara: I’m your own personal dancing soundtrack. I want the audience to feel like they just read my diary or even their own, in some way, and now witnessing it being put to movement.

Sylvana: Captivating.

Rick: In one word, why should audience members join you for an intimate evening of dance on December 14th?

Hayley: SECRETS!!

Sara: Celebration!

Sylvana: Fuck Nutcracker… Oops, that’s two words. Rebel!

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An Evening with Dancing Rogues is on Saturday, December 14th at 7:30 pm at Epic Yoga – 1323 Connecticut Avenue, in Washington, DC. Purchase your tickets here.

 

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